Although some superheroes seem to stick around forever, in the DC and Marvel Universes especially, heroes bequeath their titles to others all the time, and sometimes take other titles or just co-exist sharing the same mantle with another hero. Legacy superheroes like Superman, Captain America, and others have had several individuals take up their titles - though every comics fan has their preferred version.
Legacy superheroes passing the torch is a time-honored tradition, and right now, there are plenty of new heroes taking up titles older than them to continue protecting the universe and carrying on their predecessors' reputations.
In some cases it's second-generation characters, picking up after their parents - in others, it's metaphorical, like Carol Danvers taking on the Captain Marvel mantle and giving her 'Ms. Marvel' title down to her biggest fan.
As the tradition continues, we're taking a historical dive into the idea of legacy superheroes, counting down the 20 greatest of all time.
20. Nubia Queen of the Amazons - Wonder Woman
Although Diana Prince is Wonder Woman in the current DC Universe continuity, several others have held the title over the years. One of them is Nubia, who first appears in Wonder Woman #204 (1973) as an inheritor of the title from a future timeline. Hippolyta soon reveals that Nubia is Diana's fraternal twin, also made from clay, but she was kidnapped by Mars and thus didn't grow up on Themyscira.
Nubia has also been depicted as a parallel-universe Wonder Woman. Currently, she is Queen of the Amazons on Earth-0/Prime. She inherited the title after Hippolyta was killed by Artemis at the start of the recent Trial of the Amazons, in order for Hippolyta to join the Greek pantheon and protect her people as a goddess.
Nubia is also slated to join the Justice League in November's Justice League Special #1. It's unclear if she'll become a regular member of the team moving forward in DC's Dawn of the DCU era, or what will happen to her rule once she goes to fight in the world of men. However, her future self is identified as the one true Wonder Woman - so whatever's next, it seems likely we'll see a lot more of Nubia.
19. Shuri - Black Panther
First appearing in 2005's Black Panther #2, Princess Shuri of Wakanda is the only daughter of King T'Chaka and his only biological child with Queen Ramonda, his third wife. For most of her life, Shuri aims to become the first woman to be the Black Panther, but when she attempts to challenge her uncle S'yan for the title, she's prevented from entering the ring when another fighter successfully defeats him.
This fighter is none other than T'Challa, Shuri's older brother, who holds the Black Panther title for many years. Working alongside her brother, Shuri trains in combat and even leads her own army, particularly in the ongoing war between Wakanda and Atlantis.
After the events Secret Invasion, when Norman Osborn gains significant power in the Marvel Universe, T'Challa refuses to join his Cabal, a secret council of supervillains. As punishment, Doctor Doom attacks T'Challa and leaves him comatose, at which point Shuri is trained as the next Black Panther, finally getting her life-long wish at a significant price.
When T'Challa wakes from his coma and begins recovering from his injuries, he decides to focus on being King of Wakanda, rather than taking the Black Panther mantle back from his sister. In Klaws of the Panther (2010), Shuri travels the world to learn from fellow heroes like Spider-Man, Black Widow, and Wolverine.
18. Doctor Octopus - Spider-Man
When Spider-Man's arch-foe Dr. Octopus is diagnosed with a terminal condition, he sets about enacting his ultimate revenge plot against Spider-Man. With little time left to live, he nefariously uses his cybernetic tech to swap minds with the hero, taking Peter Parker's place as Spider-Man.
However, Peter doesn't go down without a fight, and as Peter's mind in Doc Ock's body breathes its last, he uses his connection to Dr. Octopus - now in Peter's body - to make Octavius feel the weight of the responsibility of being Spider-Man.
Of course, great responsibility or not, Octavius's hubris is left intact, driving him to become a darker, more brutal, and, if you ask him, more "superior" Spider-Man.
It all crumbles when Octavius's arrogance leads him to be tricked by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, forcing Doc Ock to relinquish control of Peter's body back to the sliver of Peter Parker's consciousness that remains to save the day.
Now Octavius is back in a souped-up clone body - and while he briefly dusted off his Superior Spider-Man moniker, he's returned under his classic name of Doc Ock.
17. Sam Alexander - Nova
Sam Alexander falls off his skateboard and hits his head while searching for his father, Jesse. He wakes up in the hospital to see Gamora and Rocket Raccoon standing over his bed, apparently because they are also looking for Jesse. More importantly, they're looking for Jesse's Black Nova helmet, which they eventually recover and then teach Sam how to use.
Sam's training comes just in time for him to help save Earth from the Chitauri, an invasion he's warned about by Uatu the Watcher. During this mission, Sam learns that Jesse abandoned the Supernovas when they most needed him, and a lot of people died in the process.
In working with the Champions after he, Ms. Marvel, and Miles Morales leave the Avengers, Sam has revealed himself to be wry and brave, determined to help his mom through any hardships. He's a skeptic until he goes to space himself, and his arrogance and immaturity shine through often - but to his credit, he's trying to learn and do better.
16. Nadia van Dyne - The Wasp
Nadia van Dyne is the daughter of Hank Pym and his first wife, Maria Trovaya. Unfortunately, Maria is kidnapped on their honeymoon and killed by foreign agents, leaving Nadia to be raised in the Red Room (much like Black Widow).
From a young age, Nadia shows incredible aptitude for science, and her handlers choose to tell her about her heritage as they believed her skills to be genetic. Nadia is already determined to escape the Red Room and learning about her parentage increases that drive. After getting ahold of some Pym Particles on the black market and mastering their size-changing properties, she escapes and goes searching for her parents.
Unfortunately, Nadia arrives at Hank Pym's home too late - he has just sacrificed himself to stop Ultron. She breaks into his lab to learn as much about him as she can, and forms a costume for herself with old Ant-Man suit pieces, taking on the mantle of the Wasp. Then she changes course to meet her stepmother, Janet van Dyne, and the Avengers.
In their first meeting, Nadia and Janet team up to diffuse a Microverse bomb and save the president of the United States. They form a bond after this, and Janet gives Nadia permission to share the Wasp name as long as she promises to continue doing good with it.
Nadia goes on to form the Genius In action Research Labs Initiative (GIRL), recruiting the brightest young women in the New York tri-state area to work together and prove to SHIELD that it needs to update its list of most intelligent humans. She's been leading GIRL and working with other superheroes in the Marvel Universe ever since.
15. Jackson Hyde - Aquaman
Jackson Hyde, formerly known as Aqualad and now known as the second Aquaman, is the son of supervillain Black Manta and Xebelian rebel, Lucia Hyde. Jackson works alongside King of Atlantis Arthur Curry, the first Aquaman, and also receives training and mentorship from him.
When Jackson's mother was pregnant with him, she discovered Black Manta's true nature and fled to the surface to give birth to and raise their son. His powers manifested as a baby, so Lucia settled in New Mexico with Jackson in the hopes of keeping him away from the ocean and thus safe from his father.
As a teenager, Jackson comes out to his mother as gay, and she worries it will draw more attention to him. In an act of rebellion, he dyes his hair blonde and gets a boyfriend named Kenny.
When Jackson reveals his powers to Kenny and explains his plan to run away from home and join the Teen Titans, Kenny breaks up with him. Jackson leaves, joins the Teen Titans, and discovers he can breathe underwater, then becomes determined to learn about his heritage and history.
He's since become a hero in his own right and is currently in Atlantis following the disbanding of the new Justice League formed by Jon Kent in the wake of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths.
14. Jane Foster - Thor
Dr. Jane Foster was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared in Journey into Mystery #84 (1962). She's since had several roles in the Marvel Universe, and currently occupies the role of the Valkyrie. In addition to being a fearsome warrior, Valkyrie escorts worthy mortals into the afterlife, where they live for eternity in Valhalla.
Before becoming Valkyrie, Jane spent some time as the Mighty Thor, a role she also occupied in the MCU in Thor: Love and Thunder. In the comics, Jane first appears as Thor in 2014's Thor: God of Thunder #25 (opens in new tab). After Thor Odinson becomes unworthy of lifting Mjolnir due to the events of Original Sin, Jane can pick up the hammer and become the new Thor.
Her motivation isn't to become a superhero or even replace Thor, with whom she once had a long-term relationship. When Mjolnir is left on the moon due to the original Thor's inability to lift it, the hammer telepathically seeks Jane out, and she eventually gives into its call.
Unfortunately, each time Jane becomes the Mighty Thor and then reverts to her human form, any progress in her cancer treatment is undone, meaning each time she picks up the hammer to fight, she sacrifices herself further to protect the universe as the new God of Thunder.
Eventually, her identity is revealed, and when Jane succumbs to her cancer, Thor and his father Odin use their combined powers to revive her, so she can focus on her treatment and go into remission - while also powering up as a new Valkyrie.
13. Kamala Khan - Ms. Marvel
Kamala Khan was created by G. Willow Wilson, Sana Amanat, Jamie McKelvie, and Adrian Alphona. She first appeared in 2014's Captain Marvel #14 (opens in new tab), and she is the second character in the Marvel Universe to take the superhero alias Ms. Marvel. The first was Kamala's idol and eventual mentor, Carol Danvers, who later became Captain Marvel. Both of these characters have ancestral connections to the Kree, but Kamala's ties are a little different from Carol's.
Born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kamala is a Pakistani American and practicing Muslim who attempts to balance school, friends, and family with her responsibilities as a teenage superhero. For most of her life, she thinks she's an ordinary human and wishes to have powers so she can fight alongside the Avengers - she even writes herself into fanfiction to explore her fantasy.
Then, when Thanos tries once again to conquer the universe during Marvel's Infinity event, the Inhumans' Terrigen Mists are released across Earth. Kamala is exposed, triggering her Inhuman DNA and awakening her latent superpowers. These allow her to "embiggen," which is how she refers to her ability to change the size and shape of her body, in parts or as a whole.
Kamala takes the name 'Ms. Marvel' to honor Carol Danvers, and when the two meet for the first time in Ms. Marvel #17, Carol gives Kamala her blessing to keep using the name. Better still, she becomes Kamala's mentor, helping Kamala learn how to use her powers and adjust to life as a superhero. Since then, Kamala has gone through intensive training with both the Avengers and the teenage team the Champions.
12. Dick Grayson - Batman
A replacement so nice DC does it twice.
The first time goes like this: The original Robin, Dick Grayson, takes on the more mature Nightwing persona in 1984. Long-viewed by most as Batman's eventual successor, Dick gets his chance to fill the cowl in the 'Knightfall (opens in new tab)'/'KnightsEnd (opens in new tab)' follow-up, 'Prodigal (opens in new tab).'
In that story, which stretches from 1994-1995, Bruce Wayne passes the mantle to Dick, whom he had raised after the death of Dick's parents, while he does some soul-searching over his role.
After a brief period, Bruce returns to the Batman role, and Dick goes back to being Nightwing, though he isn’t the only substitute Batman in this time period. The former Azrael, Jean-Paul Valley, fills the role for a time, albeit less successfully.
As for the second time, Batman seemingly dies during Final Crisis (opens in new tab) after taking out Darkseid. While the real explanation is pretty complicated, let's just say that he doesn't actually die, but he's lost for a while. During his absence, Dick again dons the cowl as Batman, and Bruce's son Damian becomes Robin. Although Bruce eventually returns, both he and Dick keep using the Batman identity. In the 'New 52,' Dick reclaims his Nightwing mantle, leaving Bruce the sole Batman once again.
11. Laura Kinney - Wolverine
Laura Kinney is one of several mutants created through the Weapon X program using Wolverine's DNA. Initially, Laura, AKA X-23, is created as an assassin for the Facility, with a trigger scent that will make her lose control and kill everyone around her.
She eventually escapes the Facility and tracks Wolverine to the X-Mansion so she can stop the Facility or any other organization from creating more weapons like her - by killing him. She also reveals her plan to end her own life, which Logan won't allow. He tells her she's a victim, not a killer of her own volition, and he offers to help her.
Although it takes some convincing, Laura does join the Xavier Institute. She's since become a valuable member of the mutant community as the all-new Wolverine, a name she chooses to honor the man she now sees as her father.
Unfortunately, experiments using Laura and Logan's DNA continue after her escape, and she meets several clones of herself created by Alchemax. Laura takes the youngest of these clones, Gabby, under her wing as her younger sister. Gabby goes by the alias Honey Badger (recently changed to Scout), and the pair live a mostly normal life outside of their superhero endeavors.
10. Ben Reilly - Spider-Man
Yeah. 'The Clone Saga.' Hang on...
This whole thing starts due to a confrontation that Spidey has with Professor Miles Warren, AKA the Jackal. Warren is a cloning expert, and he creates clones of both Spider-Man and the late love of his life, Gwen Stacy. Warren also loves Stacy and blames Spider-Man for her death. Spider-Man eventually defeats the clone and the Jackal, and it's implied that the clone is incinerated. Spidey believes he's the real Spidey because he feels true, deep love for MJ, which a clone of a younger Peter would not. Follow? Okay.
Flash-forward a couple of decades. The clone reappears, using the name Ben Reilly. An enormously complicated storyline ensues, crossing two years of time and literally dozens of issues. Reilly adventures as the Scarlet Spider, but becomes Spider-Man after he and Peter are duped into believing Peter is the clone and Peter retires, with Ben stepping in as Spider-Man.
Eventually, the true enemy of the piece turns out to be Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin), who had never died. Reilly is killed in the final battle and turns to dust, confirming the fact that he is the clone.
This is a ridiculously compressed version of events, but we are talking about (by our count) approximately 764 comic books.
Today, the event is widely seen in fan circles as one gone off the rails (although that's not to say it doesn't have its very devoted fans).
The upshot: Spider-Man was indeed officially replaced for some time, but when the clone dust clears, Peter Parker is back in the suit.
Ben Reilly once again takes over as Spider-Man during the events of the story 'Spider-Man Beyond,' though Peter has also taken up the mantle - and the story's tragic conclusion transforms Ben Reilly into the villainous Chasm.
9. Riri Williams - Ironheart
Riri Williams is certified as a child genius at a very young age and earns a scholarship from M.I.T. at the ripe age of 11. She meets her only friend, Natalie Washington when she catches Natalie's attention while working on inventions meant to help superheroes like the Avengers.
Tragically, Natalie and Riri's stepdad are killed in a drive-by shooting while Riri, her family, and her friend are having a picnic at Marquette Park in Chicago. Riri reverts into herself and begins working non-stop on her inventions, eventually reverse-engineering an old Iron Man prototype to make her first suit of armor.
Riri flies around the country to get the hang of her suit's flight capabilities and intercepts two inmates attempting to escape from the New Mexico State Penitentiary. Her armor loses its integrity, but her accomplishment draws the attention of Tony Stark himself, who visits and encourages her to become a superhero. She later assists him in the second superhero Civil War.
At the end of this epic fight, Tony falls into a coma after fighting Captain Marvel. Riri continues his legacy, creating an A.I. duplicate of Stark and a new suit of armor. She names herself Ironheart and becomes a magnet for Iron Man's allies and enemies, and she also becomes a core member of the teenage superhero team the Champions.
8. The Four Supermen
Superman has had a few replacements, with the most obvious being after his death in 1992. Four different characters claim to be Superman, though ultimately none of them are.
Superboy (the clone), Eradicator (the Kryptonian artifact), Steel (the inspired), and the Cyborg Superman (supervillain in disguise!) all attempt to take up Superman's mantle, though their powersets and attitudes are very different.
Eventually, Superboy and Steel star in their own titles, and Eradicator and Cyborg live on as villains.
In current DC continuity, a different Superboy, Clark Kent's son Jon, has actually become Superman for real, meaning both Clark and his son protect Earth using the same superhero mantle.
7. Sam Wilson - Captain America
Sam Wilson is hardly the first person to take up Steve Rogers's shield when Rogers can no longer serve as Captain America, but he might be the best replacement Cap of all time.
Trained by Rogers himself, the former Falcon is also the only substitute Cap to continue wielding the shield after Rogers returns to the role, making him one of two currently active Captains America.
Sam's been a sidekick, an Avenger, and a hero in his own right, and he's done it all without the physical enhancements that many other substitute Caps have had, proving he's got the grit and gumption to do Steve's legacy proud.
Sam is now a Captain America in comics and the Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
6. Kate Bishop - Hawkeye
Kate Bishop debuts in 2005's Young Avengers #1 as the youngest daughter of a rich Manhattanite family whose father becomes disillusioned with the world after her mother dies. Kate sees him beat a man to a bloody pulp one night and gets suspicious of his activities, so she follows him to a meeting with the supervillain El Matador.
Unfortunately, Kate is kidnapped and held for ransom, but the Avengers - including Hawkeye - comes to her rescue. Having now been introduced to Clint Barton, Kate starts to admire him for his skills despite not having superpowers of his own. After she's sexually assaulted in Central Park, she decides to take up martial arts, swordplay, and archery to not only defend herself but others.
Kate joins the Young Avengers and then becomes the team's defacto leader alongside Patriot. Their friendship is strained when Kate discovers Patriot is taking Mutant Growth Hormone to simulate Super Soldier Serum powers, but when Patriot is injured, Kate still jumps to his defense and stands up to Captain America for not training him properly.
Following this confrontation, Jessica Jones gives Kate Hawkeye's bow and arrows with a note from Cap. Jessica tells Kate she's the only person to stand up to Steve Rogers aside from Clint Barton, and Steve wants Kate to take the codename. Eventually, Clint - now operating as Ronin - also gives Kate his blessing to be the new Hawkeye, making it doubly official.
5. Miles Morales - Spider-Man
Now that Miles Morales is part of the mainstream Marvel Universe, he's one of two Spider-Men currently operating - but before that, in the Ultimate Universe, he was the one and only, having taken the mantle after Peter Parker's death.
Miles is young, but so was Peter when he became Spider-Man. And though his parents and baby sister are alive, Miles also has some familial relationships that have taught him how to be a hero, such as that with his villainous uncle, the Prowler.
Miles also has some things Peter never had, such as electric venom blasts and a kind of invisibility.
But most importantly of all, Miles carries on Peter's tradition of youthful superheroics in the Marvel Universe.
4. John Stewart - Green Lantern
Hal Jordan's done his fair share of quitting his Green Lantern job. On one occasion in the '80s, the Guardians replaced him with a most logical choice: Hal's backup GL, John Stewart.
Stewart was well known to readers of the book and had adventured with the Justice League on more than one occasion. Stewart is an architect by trade (ah-ha!), as well as a veteran Marine. Stewart has served with distinction over the years, including fighting in Crisis on Infinite Earths and joining Jordan when the GLC relocate to Earth. His first wife, Katma Tui, was a GL.
When the Corps is destroyed during Jordan's rampage, Stewart later becomes a Darkstar. With the Corps restored, Stewart returns and has been active ever since, recently serving on the Justice League.
And, lest we forget, he's the animated GL that people know best.
3. James Rhodes - Iron Man
Another Marine, though not an architect, James Rhodes meets Tony Stark shortly after Stark creates his Iron Man armor and escapes his captors. Becoming Tony's friend and pilot, Rhodes joined Stark and/or Iron Man on several adventures, including the defeat (at one point) of one Justin Hammer.
When Stark loses his company (due to the machinations of Obadiah Stane) and falls off the wagon, he cedes the Iron Man identity to Rhodes. Rhodey operates as Iron Man for quite some time (in fact, he is the Iron Man in the original Secret Wars (opens in new tab), not Stark).
Unfortunately, the Iron Man armor, not made for him particularly, begins to drive him crazy. Stark, now sober, puts on a new suit and saves his friend. Rhodey later receives a new suit from Stark and becomes War Machine.
Rhodey briefly replaces Tony again years later before returning to his War Machine identity. He's also a key character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
2. Carol Danvers - Captain Marvel
Carol Danvers has been a superhero since the '70s when a run-in with a Kree device called the Psyche-Magnitron bestows her with enhanced physicality and energy manipulating powers.
She spends most of her career as Ms. Marvel, working alongside Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel until his death. However, she occasionally goes by other names - including Binary and Warbird - usually when her powers undergo some kind of transformation. Currently, Carol only uses the Captain Marvel mantle, and she has used it for some time.
Of course, fully leaving behind her Ms. Marvel identity to become Captain Marvel also paves the way for Kamala Khan to take the title.
In movies, Carol Danvers is a member of the Avengers and is a key character in the MCU's ongoing plans.
1. Wally West - The Flash
The first comic superhero sidekick to fulfill the promise of taking over for his mentor, Wally West becomes the Flash at the close of the Crisis on Infinite Earths (opens in new tab). Wally West is Kid Flash when he experiences an accident similar to that of his uncle-by-marriage, Barry Allen.
For many years, Wally adventures alongside his mentor and his own group of friends, the Teen Titans. After experiencing a disease that begins to shorten his life each time he uses his powers, Wally retires from heroics. During the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally puts his costume back on to aid the heroes and search for his missing mentor. In that story, Wally discovers Barry gave his life to save the surviving universes.
During the final stages of the last confrontation with the Anti-Monitor, a blast of energy sends Wally's disease reeling into remission. In Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, Wally resolves to carry on in Barry's stead as the new Flash. Wally holds the spot for many years, joining Justice League Europe, the later JLA, the re-formed Titans, and Grant Morrison's iconic JLA.
After years of being put through the wringer with deaths, resurrection, the loss of his family, and even a murderous rampage, he's now come full circle and is once again DC's primary Flash.